'C' is for "Colorblind"
Robert Randolph isn't a magician, but he has always been known for having a few tricks up his sleeve. For the first few years, Randolph and his Family Band had the daunting task of re-hashing their repertoire to make their sets sound fresh, and some fans expressed frustration with the band's somewhat limited catalog. Since the release of 2003's Unclassified, things have gotten much better, and although Randolph has performed in several big markets two, three, or even five times in the past few years, he has managed to offer enough variety to avoid the "been there, done that" trap. The pedal-steel perfectionist can leave fans talking for months with just a little tease in a jam or a new cover. Yet not a single attendee of this year's All Good Festival could have expected the slew of new material that Randolph and company delivered. Each and every new song was unwrapped and inspected for a second, then broken out of the box with a celebratory fit of anticipation. While the set was essentially an extended half of what the band normally gets into in a headliner-type setting, their current tour with The Black Crowes and Drive-By Truckers has helped the Family Band hone their penchant for succinct setlist penmanship. After getting things "Going in the Right Direction," Randolph smiled an almost sinister smile before unleashing a sneak preview of some songs sure to make the new album, Colorblind, set for a late September release. Most notable were "Summertime," which sounds destined for placement in adolescent TV spots with its poppy hook, and the new anthem "Deliver Me." The standout covers were there as well, including scorching renditions of the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus is Just Alright" (which will be on the new album) and Hendrix's legendary "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" plus a fantastic tease of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" in the middle of "I Need More Love." All in all, Robert Randolph continues to demonstrate his dominance on the pedal steel, and if the material he debuted was any indication, Colorblind is in position to be his best album yet.
'D' is for the "Drizzle"
As a light cooling mist dropped from the sky, the Disco Biscuits sent us out for another romp around Marvin's Mountaintop. They were thoroughly missed last year but were back for year 10. The fatty sets they finished at High Sierra earlier in the month had many in high hopes. Their late night take left me happy, but unfortunately, disconnected at many moments through the evening. The damp drizzle that fell from the sky brought on a lot of patient jamming, trance, and dub, but the set lacked much of the energy that pushed the 2004 All Good performance until daybreak. The "Astronaut" start should be finished in high style at August's Camp Bisco, but until then, the high moments that emerged during the "Shimmy in a Conga Line" > "Great Abyss" > "Cyclone" will have to do. In fact, the "Great Abyss" was one of the better versions of that song we had heard. Drummer Allen Aucoin's playing was impeccable for "Shimmy." Go figure, practically all he played was that snap-track, high-hat rhythm. It didn't matter because he was "Allen the Machine," and we ate it up. Marc Brownstein started the bass line early into "Cyclone," so many saw it coming, ready for craziness to ensue. The "Cyclone" seemed to build slower, with a methodical, intentionally layered effect. For some reason, it just didn't seem to fit the flow and energy of a late night show – the crowd was ready to be lifted by a raging, peaked-out "Cyclone."
Aron Magner - the Disco Biscuits by Jake Krolick
Guitarist Jon "The Barber" Gutwillig found creative pockets all evening as he filled the musical space. He played a lot of notes on the off-beats, timed perfectly, thrusting some interest to a lazy late night. After it was accepted that the evening would be a pretty, melodic, floating jam, all seemed to fall into place. There was some great interplay between keyboardist Aron Magner and Brownstein for "Munchkin." The jam out of "Home Again" and into "Jigsaw Earth" dropped the mood to a dark, slow crawl laden with heavy keys and bass, creating a celestial expedition of sorts. The Biscuits' lights synched up and shot hundreds of pulsing minuscule beams into the audience. The mist of the evening amplified the experience, and all was good as the ambiance took hold and we left our minds on the hill.
Jon Gutwillig - the Disco Biscuits by Jake Krolick
'E' is for the "Essence of the Big Easy"
Since the last All Good Festival, so much has unfolded that one can be tempted to question exactly what is going on in the world. New Orleans, in particular, has had the worst year of any American city in our lifetimes. After being drowned in a deluge of Mother Earth's tears, the Crescent City is still crying for some sense of normalcy. Although music alone won't lead New Orleans back to its cultured past, the sounds of bands like Rebirth Brass Band and Galactic will certainly supply the soundtrack to the march. Given all that's happened since All Good 9, it's no wonder it feels so uplifting just to get the chance to see and hear these two sides of the fabled New Orleans musical coin (or perhaps, more accurately, a Mardi Gras doubloon). Both acts lead their respective (and, for the most part, respectable) audiences on a voyage down to the "dirty south" through funky sweeps, brass stabs, and that notorious care-free NOLA disposition. Galactic drummer Stanton Moore looked like he was going to jump out of his seat and off the stage several times during "Tiger Roll" > "Bounce Baby" > "Space Headz." Likewise, the front line of Rebirth Brass Band got the crowd stepping high with their energetic renditions of songs like "Used to Love Her" and "Let's Get it On." Rebirth truly was "Kickin' it Live," and if it wasn't for the unavoidable scorch of the sunshine, one could have closed their eyes and been transported back to a pre-Katrina Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf Bar, when the heaviest trouble weighing on one's mind was deciding between an Abita Amber or a Turbodog. Although there is still so much work to do and so much aid to give, music fans are lucky that bands like Galactic and Rebirth are doing their part to rebuild the musical legacy of New Orleans – one beat at a time.
Rebirth Brass Band by Jake Krolick
'F' is for "Forging Ahead of the Pack"
I can place my finger on one of the exact moments I fell over the abyss into music craziness. It was in the summer of 1992. I was 17 years old, and Horizons of Rock were really Developing Everywhere. The H.O.R.D.E. show was in my backyard of Portland, ME. The precise moment actually happened after Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit had just about finished their 40-minute set. Coincidentally (or not), they performed many of the songs I heard at this year's All Good Festival. At any rate, they started to jam in their encore and were joined by a band I hadn't really heard of before. Aquarium Rescue Unit (ARU) actually jammed their way right off the Civic Center stage and were replaced by Widespread Panic, who went right into their set. Holy crap! Music was everywhere, and I was enthralled by the continuous flow. Heck, I thought I had discovered the greatest secret known to man!
Col. Bruce Hampton - ARU
The H.O.R.D.E. festival and a new-found experimental substance were probably the reason that musical love sprouted wings and began to fly. Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon at All Good, and the feelings from years back rushed into our minds as we reclined in our seats. By the time the band got to "I'm So Glad," Col. Bruce Hampton's sneer burned us enough to rise and suck wind with a sway to match his growls. All in all, this was not a bad feeling to experience by the second song from a band that originated at a weekly Hampton hosted jam session. The Aquarium Rescue Unit's experimental jazz-rock busted out of its seems into "I'm Basically Frightened." We watched Jimmy Herring work back and forth with Bobby Lee Rodgers. The two passed notes as old friends would exchange stories of their lives. What a special musical relationship they share. I kept thinking about why Herring had joined the band in the first place. He had said somewhere that he loved the freedom Hampton gave the whole band to explore. The Colonel actually would get mad if they didn't push the boundaries of what they were playing.
The show was a Sunday treat unlike any we had received at the nine All Goods of the past. The infectious boundaries of music were stretched from "Zambi" > "Space is the Place." The band was through with their set, but we wanted it to never end. Well, we guessed promoter Tim Walther had reminisced back to where his love of music started also. Just when we thought we would have no more, Walther waved his magic festival stick and gave the Georgia boys a second 30-minute mini-set that including a scorching "Elevator to the Moon" and "Time is Free."
Jimmy Herring - ARU
They've played a handful of dates since the late 90's, and as seasoned musicians, they communicate telepathically in a musical manner akin to the way teenage girls gab with every text-doohickey communication device known to man. The Aquarium Rescue Unit's music defeats any notion that these guys weren't light years ahead of their time. No doubt, this showing has become a new scale to judge future bands in the genre.